What will Brexit mean for our schools?
Our education system may not be at the epicentre of today’s momentous EU referendum result. But it is unlikely to escape its aftershocks. From the potential return of widespread academic selection to changes in pupil numbers, here we outline the potential consequences of Brexit, for teachers and the schools in which they work.
- Will we lose staff from EU countries working in our schools?
It has been suggested that one consequence of Brexit will be that it will be harder for schools to find the staff they need, particularly when it comes to teaching languages.
In a major speech arguing for a remain vote, education secretary, Nicky Morgan, said: “We currently have over 1,000 language assistants from the EU teaching in British schools.
“That means hundreds of thousands of pupils are having the opportunities to have their study of French, German and Spanish supported by native speakers.”
The idea that any government would be prepared to see much needed expertise sent packing, particularly at a time of teacher shortages seems unlikely. Just because ministers will no longer have to allow immigration from EU countries does not mean they would stop all of it. And any Australian based points system, as proposed by leading Brexitiers, would surely make ensuring we have fully staffed schools a priority.
However whether they will want to negotiate new visa arrangements or stay in England in the current political climate could be more open to question. As one EU national, Hans van Broekman, the Dutch principal of Liverpool College, (who, it should be stressed, has not suggested he will leave) wrote this morning that he had woken up in up “in a different country” in an “adopted homeland that is not quite what you thought it was”.
- What will this mean for pupil numbers?
One of the biggest arguments made by the Brexit lobby was that EU immigration was putting additional pressure on public services, including schools.
Last week, the Vote Leave campaign claimed that an additional 261,000 children from EU countries could be expected to sign up for schools in the UK by 2030 if Britain backed remain.
So now that the country has rejected the EU are schools likely to see existing EU pupils departing and if so how many?
Research by School Dash this month used non British white pupils as a proxy for EU immigrants and found that they made up just under 5 per cent of England’s pupils and that their distribution was “very patchy” – rising to more than 30 per cent in some localities.
But it also found that there was “no clear correlation” between recent European immigration and shortages of primary places. It noted that “this does not mean that it isn’t a factor at certain individual schools; on the contrary, anecdotal evidence suggests that in some cases it is”.
However overall, Brexit will be unlikely to do much to help the problem of overflowing primaries.
Is it also open to question how many such pupils will leave England when we leave the EU anyway. Vote Leave may have campaigned against immigration but will ministers really want to force EU nationals filling gaps in the workforce to leave?
If they do, then schools could be losing some of their highest achieving pupils. School Dash also found that schools with high numbers of white immigrant pupils outperformed those with fewer.
- A more immediate impact is likely to come from delays in big education announcements by minsters preoccupied by the political implications of the Brexit earthquake.
Heads’ leaders are already warning that they expected the long awaited national schools funding formula to be further delayed in the wake of the Conservative party leadership contest triggered by Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation this morning.
The next teachers’ pay deal is another long delayed outstanding issue.
When a new Tory leader is elected then a Cabinet reshuffle will surely follow, which could in turn potentially throw all current education policies up in the air. Perhaps most significantly some are asking…
- *Could Brexit mean a comeback for grammar schools?
A triumphant Boris Johnson has been installed as the bookies favourite to become the next Prime Minister and the former mayor of London has suggested he is a big supporter of grammar schools.
“I think that the decision to get rid of them was a real tragedy for this country,” he said in 2014.
Last year, he stated that there was no going “no going back to the old grammar school approach of the 1950s” but he added “some sort of academic selection and competition I think can be very, very powerful”.
But Mr Johnson is not the only Conservative party leadership contender.
His Brexit partner Michael Gove could also end up in Number 10 and the former education secretary vetoed plans for a vetoed plans for a grammar school “annexe” in Sevenoaks, Kent, later approved by his successor at Sanctuary Buildings, Nicky Morgan.
Ms Morgan has also been touted as a Tory leadership hopeful. But even if the education secretary or any other politician more favourable to academic selection does take over at Downing Street, the realities of academy chains and schools autonomy might make it return to large scale grammar school system difficult to achieve – both practically and politically.